And so we have agreement in the Senate on a stimulus package to rescue the U.S. economy from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 virus. And now it’s on to the House for passage, perhaps later this week. The sheer size is stunningly immense at some $2 trillion, give or take a few billion.
Author: Frank N. Wilner
As America increasingly is sheltering in place, losing unprecedented numbers of jobs and retirement savings, fearful of COVID-19, and facing a stress level unfamiliar except to those who have endured war zones, Amtrak and its workforce face only unpleasant choices if the railroad and their jobs are to survive. Fare-paying passengers have vanished—almost entirely on Northeast Corridor Acela trains; significantly on all others.
The year was 1917, and on Dec. 18, President Woodrow Wilson invoked the Army Appropriations Act of 1916 to take federal control of the nation’s railroads. The U.S. had entered World War I that April, and a lack of coordination among railroads, along with labor strife, hampered the war effort.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE MARCH 2020 ISSUE: Welcome back, Operation Lifesaver. Visibly restored is the vim and vigor vital to your task. While you were regrouping, horribles continued at highway-rail grade crossings and on the steel rails that too often are narcotizing agents for otherwise safety-conscious hikers, joggers, dog walkers, photographers, short-cut seekers, snowmobilers, those fishing, midday wanderers and the permanently idle.
This is about a railroad labor union committed to serving its dues paying members, and a rail industry losing its core revenue traffic—coal—and now facing off against omnipresent low-cost, non-union truckers for the trailers and containers comprising much of the railroads’ future traffic base. It’s about new technology—the product of knowledge that for centuries has transformed the nature, quality and quantity of work. In this instance, the technology is Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety overlay system substituting artificial intelligence for engineer inattention or distraction. PTC, as does most new technology, creates job redundancies.
Color it neither Democratic nor Republican. It’s Amtrak—or, more precisely, the Amtrak déjà vu. Since its 1971 creation by Congress as America’s national intercity passenger railroad, Amtrak’s survival has been a near-run thing dependent on a never absolutely certain—but always occurring—bipartisan congressional willingness to cough up subsidy.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE: Spending others’ money as if it were one’s own isn’t successful politics. Yet notwithstanding Congress’ current appetite for trillion-dollar annual deficits, there are limits to federal spending—especially on Amtrak, which labors perennially for but a miniscule portion.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE: When Mexico’s President Porfirio Diaz lamented more than a century ago of his nation being “so far from God and so close to the United States,” he hadn’t contemplated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which demonstrably enhances efficiency, encourages innovation, increases consumer purchasing power, makes a wider assortment of goods available and raises standards of living.
Fred Bernard Rooney, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, died Dec. 23, 2019 at age 94. He was a dependable friend of railroads and instrumental in successful passage of the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform (4-R) Act, which formalized the creation of Conrail following Penn Central’s bankruptcy, introduced for the first time the concept of railroad revenue adequacy, and provided small steps toward greater railroad economic deregulation delivered by the 1980 Staggers Rail Act.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, RAILWAY AGE DECEMBER 2019 ISSUE: Kermit the Frog won our hearts singing “lovers, the dreamers and me,” while Thomas the Tank Engine’s “yes we can” encouraged us and Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” inspired us. These words also describe small-railroad entrepreneurs providing the first and last mile for one of every five carloads.